June 11, 2014

Hockey Mom: Leaving ‘select’ choice up to your kid? Priceless

By April Bowling

A dad dressed in a black North Face fleece approached the glass and began banging on it so hard that my coffee cup started to vibrate toward the edge of the dasher. His son, summoned by the ear-popping reverberations, skated over.

“Skate faster, goddammit. Get your head out of your (bleep). You need to want this!”

His kid nodded vigorously and skated back to the drill line. My husband looked at me with a “Did you see that” expression and shook his head. 

“This isn’t for us,” he said. “This isn’t for Sam.”

I just shrugged. There are crazy parents at all hockey games … often I’m one of them. But he was right. There seemed to be more craziness here than normal.

We were at one of three select team tryouts our son was planning to attend this spring. Sam was doing really well. He’d already been called over by the coaches twice to chat after good showings during scrimmages, and he seemed to be having a good time with his buddies who also were attending. The coaches seemed genuinely friendly, and their interactions with the kids were productive and professional. But the atmosphere was … intense.

Not because of the kids. These were callbacks, so most of them were loose and confident. It was the parents, nervously fidgeting, whispering about contracts and glancing at the coaches with clipboards every five seconds to see if they were watching their kid. No parent wants to see their child passed over; every parent wants the coaches to see their child as they do — awesome little people, and at the very least a work in progress worthy of a shot to make the team. I didn’t like the way that dad talked to his kid, but I empathized with the worry he clearly felt.

It took a long time to convince me that Sam should try out for select at all. Generally every time parents came to a club game talking about the secretive process of signing a select team contract, or we lost another player to select play, I would grumble and harrumph. It just seemed too early — signing a contract at 8 years old? Being told you are an “elite” hockey player in third grade, before checking is even a part of the game? Or worse, being told you didn’t make it but your buddies did?

But most of his teammates played on two teams this year and planned to move to select-only next year. I’m more concerned about burnout than I am skill development, so playing for two teams was never on my radar screen. And as long as a few kids from his current team stayed with club hockey, I knew Sam would be happy to do the same. But when he finally asked me if I wasn’t letting him try out because I thought he wasn’t good enough, it made me stop and think.

Generally, the more life experiences, the better. And what would this be if not a life experience? You hustle, you try hard, and maybe at the end of the day you have someone tell you that you aren’t good enough. How do you respond to that? Seems like a pretty good teachable moment.

Or maybe they tell you that you ARE good enough, and now you have to make a choice.  There are pros and cons to weigh, decisions to think through. Making those choices and living with your decision … well, there are a lot of grown-ups who could use practice in this arena.

Finally, and maybe most important for Sammy, an opportunity to push outside one’s comfort zone, should not be missed, in my opinion. The experience of simply doing something new, absorbing the thoughts and feelings and outcomes and process of it all, is incredibly valuable.

So I said yes, you can try out.

The first night of the first tryout, the place was packed, and Sam was nervous. About halfway through, I noticed Sam wasn’t smiling. In fact, he looked miserable, even though he was performing relatively well. It didn’t surprise me when, in the car on the way home, he told me he didn’t want to do the second night.

Too bad, Buddy. Mom already paid the registration fee. You’re going.

He did and he had a bit more fun. So when the call backs came, he was excited to compete.

After I caught my coffee cup and North Face dad returned to his corner, we resumed watching the drill at hand. It was a one-on-one drill where the kids started from the red line and the coaches threw a puck into a corner and the kids had to compete to score on the goalie who was trying out as well. They had called Sam over and paired him up with a specific, similarly sized kid; I wondered if that signaled to him that this was his competition, or if he was as clueless as I suspected.

They blew the whistle and Sam beat the kid to the puck, steered it past him with an uncharacteristically smooth move and backhanded it past the goalie. He skated back to the line like it was no big deal, while I could barely contain my joy. 

Not because he was going to make the team, but because he clearly believed in himself out there. 

Over dinner on the way home, Sam told us that even if he got picked, he had decided he didn’t want to leave his club team, and that he didn’t want to try out for the remaining two select teams. “It’s my team, Mom,” he said. “It’s always been my team. I feel like I should stay.”

We were out $140 in tryout fees for him to decide to stay with his club team after all, but I didn’t mind. Now it was HIS choice. And one that I’m prouder of than any hockey move he made that day.

April Bowling is a mother of two, including one avid little hockey player named Sam. Owner of TriLife Coaching, a multisport training firm in Essex, Mass., April also co-founded the TriROK Foundation.

This article originally appeared in the May edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.

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